Menu

Are Black and White Images Appropriate for Real Estate Marketing?

February 24th, 2017

Ron in Texas asks:

I wanted to run this idea by you and your readers. I live in a small Texas border town and do RE photography (still and drone) as a retirement supplement, and there are a limited number of high-end homes to shoot here. I stay reasonably busy, but could always use a little more business. Recently, a broker who really likes my work asked me if there was any way I could offer a discounted package for some of her agents who typically sell medium-priced homes and can’t afford my fee ($125 for the basic 25 image+ pkg).

I thought about it, but I just couldn’t come up with a solution that wouldn’t be almost as much work as the full pkg, and that wouldn’t diminish my brand. Today, I had a brainstorm. Since such a HUGE chunk of my post-processing time is devoted to color correction, what about doing RE in black and white? Right now I do a simple Lightroom workflow with their HDR process (no lights), and in order to get decent images, I spend a lot of time balancing out color casts, etc. If I could just do a black & white conversion on my RE images (the discounted ones), for me it would easily save me enough time to justify a decent discount. Have you heard of anyone doing this, or do you think this is a nutty idea? When I see the awful yellow color cast (almost monochromatic) images that agents typically take and post on the MLS, I think a good B&W would be a huge big upgrade! I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know what you think of this crazy idea.

I have to be honest. Delivering B&W real estate photos is a BAD idea! Everyone on the planet expects color marketing photos. People’s expectations of marketing images are driven by the color images in the media. Even newspapers use color images.

The root of your problem is using HDR with no lights!! All those wacky color casts that you struggle to remove can be easily eliminated if you just use one manual flash when shooting your brackets. See this blog post that explains the details.

Share this

19 Responses to “Are Black and White Images Appropriate for Real Estate Marketing?”

  • i personally don’t see the point for b/w photos on RE mainly since the photos are to 1. document the property with accuracy as much as is possible and 2. make it realistically jump out of the sea of listings to get noticed and sell… maybe if they were part of a video tour or slideshow used as a transition or under txt but not for primaries…

  • Ron, What do you consider a “medium priced” home? I charge more than $125 for approximately 20 images. The agent might spend more than $125 showing the house. I offer a half price deal to agents for half the number of images (around 10) if they are also booking a full priced job in the same area on the same day. You may also want to see what pricing you can offer if your customer books up your entire day. My goal is $XX/hour whether it’s photographing homes and providing 20 images or 10 images at a time. I require the full price job to get me out the door and cover my prep, invoicing and other parasitic business stuff. Once I’m in the field, I want to work until the sun goes down.

    Larry is correct that if you are having problems with color, your workflow is off. Classic tone-mapped HDR leads to all sorts of ugly messes when you try to use it for RE. Exposure fusion (still using bracketed exposures) is a much better method for more accurate photos, especially if you incorporate flash. Honestly, using off camera flash can be just as fast once you are experienced with it. There is also “Flambient” layering ambient and flashed frames in Photoshop where the ambient exposure is used in luminosity mode so it doesn’t affect the color of the flashed frame. Get a copy of Simon Maxwell’s book “Enfuse and Hand Blending in Photoshop for Real Estate Photography” and a subscription to Lynda.com for Scott Hargis’ videos on RE photography using flash. Whether you stay predominately with one technique or the other, it’s good to be able to use both well.

    People may feel that the agent is trying to hide something if they are using B/W images.

  • no, no, no, no and lastly, NO! real estate photography is not art, it’s documentation of the property really looks like.

  • Look, if you are having problems with HDR cast etc and you want to offer a less expensive package that takes less time then, don’t do HDR or multi exposure. Shoot the best single image you can while on site. No flash, no tripod just hand held, all lights on. Use LR and be in and out. You will cut your on site time in half and your post processing in half. You would be surprised at how good you can get with a single image.

    Here is an example of what I do with a single image on low end property. The other day I was in and out in less than 15 minutes on a property like this. You must of course absolutely require that the agent prepare the entire home and have all lights on and the shade, drapes open prior to you arriving at the home. I have found using that technique and with the cooperation of the agents I can make $60 an hour including travel time and PP time plus expense. If I can do it so can you.

    http://www.thelindamillerteam.com/1820-village-road-glenshaw/

    BTW this home had 15 showings on the first day on the market and I thought it was over priced for the market. Every image hand held, single shot no flash. Yes tripod and multi exposure and fusion etc. would have made it better but… the object is to deliver good quality, short time, show results and make money not art. Artists starve. I won’t.

  • While I agree B&W is a bad idea for RE marketing, you may have some Realtors clueless enough that they would accept it.

    1) Address your workflow, experiment with other techniques, to develop a more efficient workflow. But that is for YOU, not to appease some select group with lower rates which your core group is effectively subsidizing. By improving your workflow, you effectively give yourself a raise without raising your prices.

    2) For those wanting a “discount” turn the question back on them. This is what you offer…what do they want you to subtract to hit their lower pricepoint? Now the onus is on them as they have to take a business look at their own question. You might even suggest that you could remove to color and give the B&W photos…and watch their jaw drop. Be careful with that though, as the end result may reflect on you so wouldn’t want to suggest very economical run-n-gun single oncamera flash projecting harsh shadows and straight out of the camera jpg with no post. But that is essentially what they are asking for without realizing the end product.

  • Forget black and white photography for real estate. The reasons are many…

    1. It’s not an accurate depiction of a property.
    2. It will look odd compared to color listings.
    3. Agents want blue skies.
    4. Buyers want to see the colors of the home.
    5. As you stated, it’s a crazy idea, lol.

    Sounds like you have an excellent opportunity to shoot more listings exclusively for a brokerage. With that sort of volume, I would hope you negotiate an agreement that is equitable for all.

    Don’t reinvent the wheel. Grab it and steer it in a direction that gets you and them where you need to go.

  • @Ken. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. To answer your question, a medium-priced home in my town is in the $125-150K range. Most of the homes I shoot (for $125 ea) are selling for $200-700K. Your idea of offering half the number of images was the first thing I thought of, but I discarded it because I was afraid the agent would probably use some of THEIR pics to make up the difference on their MLS file allotment. A potential client might think I took those images as well as the ones I did take. That would be a killer for my brand. BTW to others who have suggested changing my workflow, the LR HDR process is not tone-mapping, and it actually gives a very nice result. I would say that 80% of the pics don’t require anything more than the white balance eyedropper tool (placed in the right location) and maybe a little blue desaturation. Other situations can be taken care of with local adjustments (either brush or gradient). I know a flash layer would help the process, but I just haven’t been able to make it work for me consistently enough in the large open-spaced rooms to make it part of my process. If you’d like to see some of my work, here’s my website link: http://www.roncastlephotos.com BTW, for many of the upper end homes I shoot, I’m able to add drone images and sometimes twilights to bump up my fee. Thanks to everyone else for your helpful comments!

  • Ron, You should give your best agents a quantity discount. Take $25 off if they give you 4 listings a month. Or if they can give you two homes in a day, give them a 10-20% discount. As long as you don’t have to drive an hour to get to the homes, you will make up for in the extra workload. You can still price the luxury homes higher, because they will take considerably more time. Good luck. Dave.

  • Hi Ron,
    If you look at the new prospective home owners’ buying process, they start with deciding the schools, the bedrooms, bathrooms price location and any other features they want like yard size and they plug that info into a browser like a MLS site Realtor.com, or others and it brings up similar homes. The very first decision people usually make when looking at this list of homes is to eliminate all the homes they are NOT interested in. This is KEY for your broker because if their home is not in the “interested” group. the prospects seldom or never go back through the stack again, and this is a very quick decision – they usually will spend no longer than 20 seconds and more like 5 seconds on the beginning curb image before they save or dump the home. Once they have reduced the number of homes down the the “interested” group then they go back and study these homes in more depth before they call the brokers to visit the homes. These images are your broker customer’s FIRST IMPRESSION. AND THIS IS THE REAL VALUE YOUR BROKER CUSTOMER GETS FROM USING YOU. If your images do not create interest then there is no point in using you. B&W images will not catch the kind of attention and interest that your brokers need to attract the perspective buyers they need to sell the home. Color is a key feature. Study color calibrate your monitor and cameras and learn how to balance it. Off color images are just as bad as B&W. I hope this helps. Good luck.

  • One more thing Ron,
    Your images are your product. If you deliver the best images that you possibly can, your business will grow and you can identify the good, intelligent brokers who understand the value of good photography and will pay more. When you get too busy, raise your prices. Do what Scott Hargis did and make sure you have the absolutely best images on your website. They will attract a higher quality broker for you.

  • As someone mentioned you would probably be able to reduce your price by offering less images. We had a similar issue that came up with a property rental company and we negotiated a reduced price for 10 images that hit the highlights. The properties were ready and it was scheduled when we were in the area. Its working out pretty good and generating $300-$400 that we normally wouldn’t have gotten. This also allowed the customer some extra cash to add some virtual staging.

  • What I do is I will include 3 drone shots in the package, everyone loves aerial views. The thing that costs most is your unproductive time, and that is the driving between locations. So you are already there so add in the 3 drone shotsfor the same money or a little more, and now your $125 looks much more attractive, even for slightly less priced homes.

  • Back in the olden times before 1975, all RE photos were mainly black and white and only of the front of the house with a Polaroid camera. In the early 80s I used Ektachrome slide film for my first RE photos. That was very tough to do. In n the early 90s many homes in my area, Virginia Beach, VA, an artistic approach happened using B/W painterly RE photos. That did not last long when digital came around in the late 90s. Personally, I think well done B/W looks much better than 95% of the photos I’ve seen today made with way off color using HDR and Enfuse.

  • When faced with an agent who wants a reduced price shoot, this is what I am willing to provide:
    1. Single frame with one flash (maybe if I feel like it!)
    2. No mechanizing.
    3. No extras, no tours or social media marketing.

    For most “Shoot & Scoot” properties I’m in and out in 30 minutes with no more then 36 images – yes we are hustling. No mechanizing means I touch nothing, pretend everything is perfect and shoot as is. Remember the agent was looking for a price reduction and was willing to step-up and do their own mechanizing before my arrival. We are being paid to take the picture, white balance, convert to jpg and deliver digital images for these discounted shoots. We do have a “caveat emptor” chat when making the appointment to prevent any misunderstandings.

    The most important part to remember is that nothing you do as a professional photographer is free, it will always cost you something money, time or effort. YOU must establish the value of your time and the product. You might be surprised once you have drawn the line in the sand to discover how many people value the service you provide. As real estate photographers we sell our product to SALES PEOPLE it’s a B2B relationship; expect them to attempt to negotiate! It’s how they make a living.

  • B&W is awesome for certain properties. Recently I shot an old home in Seattle with a photo hanging in the kitchen, taken the day it sold new approx 100 years prior -obviously it was black and white. I setup my camera, turned down the lights and copied it. The broker used my/that photo for a cover on the MLS – with rave reviews. Later I shot a Gig Harbor modern in black & white… The sellers had so many showings the first 3 days they freaked out and took the place off the market. Here’s one of those images:

    http://www.davespencerphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/andersonanderson-1.jpg

    Black and white, done right, is a far more powerful for creating an emotional connection than 90% of color. Imo.

  • @Dave – Yes, I agree, in some situations, B&W is very appropriate. Your example is one where it makes sense.

    But my advice isn’t never, ever use B&W. It’s don’t use it as a solution to post processing color problems.

  • I was a full time realtor for 8 years. I would not have taken a listing where the owner insisted upon b/w photos because it would deminish sales and my professional income. Besides, it would have endorsed a really, really bad idea for the seller/owner. “Just say no” and use your flash for better colors.

  • I guess it’s a no.

  • Thanks to Larry and everybody else who took the time to respond to my question! What a great group of professionals willing to help one another. Very refreshing, and I picked up some very good suggestions I plan on using going forward. How ironic that the day I sent my question to Larry, I got my first ever home that had a very “White” interior design scheme that I always see on most RE photographers’ websites. Shooting that property was almost like doing a black and white with selective bits of color! 🙂 For anyone interested, here’s a link to my YouTube video of that property: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUogwlnjK3E&t=1s

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply